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Consciously yours

india Updated: Nov 09, 2011 02:36 IST
PP Wangchuk

One thing that has been of late bothering me a lot is how to understand the link, if any, between consciousness and conscience. If they are different, are they in any way complementary?

In its widest sense, conscious/consciousness includes all sensations, thoughts, feelings and volition; in fact the sum total of one’s mental life.

And conscience may be taken to mean the awareness of a moral or ethical aspect to one’s conduct together with the urge to prefer right over wrong.

If one goes deeper into their philosophical aspects, one is given to understand that today the words conscious/consciousness and conscience are used to mean different things. But it is likely that the Reformists’ emphasis on the latter as the inner source of the reality, the truth, might have played some role in our understanding of inward turn and reflective view of the self.

A little complex, I admit. Therefore, I would like to discard it for the time being and phrase it another way: Consciousness is the face of conscience that, in a way, can be called the master of one’s will and behaviour. That is why we say at times, “My conscience does not allow this” or, “This is the call of my conscience.”

If you want further clarification, I have a more simple but ‘brute’ explanation: The devil too has consciousness but no conscience! Isn’t that quite funny but so clear?

If you have read Shakespeare during your university days or thereafter, you have seen this kind of conflict resolution efforts in the Bard’s mind. Recall Hamlet walking the stage and yet seeing his world and the self with profoundly modern eyes and mind.

Nearer home, we had Gandhi, whom I would call the bundle of the nation’s conscience.

No wonder, he loved to call upon the countrymen to arouse their conscience and arise and awake to fight with the powerful weapon of their collective conscience during the freedom struggle. He stressed that in the matter of conscience, the law of the majority had no place. And one of his seven roots of violence was: Pleasure without conscience.